Love’s Sweet Return

By now you’ve already heard that Harlequin has signed a deal with Alliance Films to produce a series of made-for-TV, made-for-home-video movies … he breathed huskily.

Something inside her stirred.  Yes, she knew all about Harlequin, the Toronto-based military-industrial complex of romance publishing.  She was well aware of its plans to expand from paperbacks into television.  But she smiled and let him talk.

Harlequin already sells novels in 26 languages and 100 countries, he continued, his ice blue eyes flashing.  Sixty new titles a month.  Worldwide sales of more than 300 million last year.  An annual operating profit of more than $50 million.

Sure, she thought, massive earnings from false yearnings.  His easy self-confidence infuriated her.  After all, this was a financial empire founded on the perpetuation of reactionary sexual stereotypes.  It was the propaganda arm of patriarchy, of happy-face heterosexualism.  And this deal with Alliance promised simply to extend Harlequin’s hegemony of the heartstrings to the television screen.

Not for nothing had she read Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance: Women. Patriarchy and Popular Literature.

The plan was to produce an initial slate of six movies at $3 million apiece.  If it worked, eventually they would churn out 13 a year.

But why movies? she asked.  Traditionally, television romance has been packaged in the form of the soap opera.

He smiled coldly.  You tell me.

All right, she replied.  Whereas movies and novels sell themselves on the guarantee of an ending, of narrative resolution, soap operas are important to their audiences because they never end.  She quoted from memory Tania Modleski’s Loving With a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women.

Quite so, he said, obviously pleased.  Also, packaging the product in the form of videocassettes allows direct marketing to the home, the way 70 per cent of Harlequin’s titles are currently sold.  The company is trusting in its sales and marketing expertise to move the merchandise.

She disguised her disdain expertly.  There was nothing to indicate that people would be willing to purchase a romance video a month.  And Harlequin’s previous attempts to translate its mushy novels into mushy movies had come to mush.

There were the six low-budget pictures they made in the 1980s in collaboration with Yorkshire TV, memorable only in that one of them featured a young Sharon Stone.

Before that, there was the 1979 theatrical release Leopard in the Snow, which died of hypothermia at the box office and is still remembered inside Harlequin as “Turkey in the Snow.”

He brushed these objections aside with an imperious wave of his hand.  Alliance, he reminded her, has a track record.  It’s the largest company of its kind in Canada.  It makes E.N.G. It makes Counterstrike.  It specializes in productions that aspire to American-style gloss.

Well, she thought to herself, we shall see.  She despised him, and everything he stood for.  But at the same time, despite herself, she had to admit that a video version of a Harlequin romance would likely fare better in the marketplace than a video version of, say, Margaret Ann Jensen’s Love’s Sweet Return, the book that grew out of her doctoral thesis on the Harlequin

  • CBC Radio April 18, 1993